I want the best for myself and my family–naturally. Why settle for less? We live in a society of plenty; all we have to do is go for it and ask for exactly what we want, in department stores, restaurants, on the love market, and of course from doctors. An almost inaudible, but powerful voice inside of us may tell us to reach for the best and only for the best.
Is this a good choice though?
Malcolm Gladwell, who made unconscious, intuitive decisions a popular topic with his book “Blink,” insists that people who have their individual taste buds satisfied are happier for it. Researchers, he pointed out, have found that there is no such thing as a perfect Pepsi or coffee type or tomato sauce. There are only perfect Pepsis, coffee types and tomato sauces. There are clusters of people who like a particular taste of a given product, for example a cluster liking sodas very sweet, another medium sweet and yet another a tad sweet. When food corporations honored these more varied ideas of “perfect,” they beat their competitors by large margins and made fortunes. So, corporations get richer and individuals happier with the perfect choice–a win-win situation.
When I go to a specialty store, I may ask for exactly what I want: a single shot of espresso with equal amounts of heated almond milk. Do I like this? Sure. Does it make me happy? No. It is a nice pleasure which may grow into a habit. Pleasure is good in good measure, but even in measure it isn’t happiness. It cannot touch the human heart the way love can. It certainly does not bring inner peace as tickling our senses makes us want more of particular things and less of non-particular Being. Getting precisely what we want can spoil us to such a degree that we become insensitive to the simple pleasures of life, the less-than-perfect experiences, the subtle tastes of the mundane.
Besides, when I go to a supermarket, I may resist going to the coffee aisle, fearing the avalanche of choice in cylindrical form which may burry me alive. I feel overwhelmed with the abundance. And actually, research confirms: less can be more. Gerd Gigerenzer, author of “Gut Feelings” which delivered much of the science for “Blink,” says,
“Choice is good, and more choice is better, says global business credo (…) But this is not how the human mind works. There is a limit that often corresponds to the magical number seven, plus or minus two…”2
This applies even to dating. Don’t wait around comparing hundreds of specimens to find the ideal one. People with fewer choices have just as happy or unhappy relationships. I reckon what matters most is not a pool of people, but if I have the guts to jump into the pool (commitment) and the ability to swim (love).
Fact is, less is often more. We get to be overdiagnosed and overtreated as doctors are increasingly afraid of being sued. To our detriment, they just might prescribe useless tests and harmful treatments out of fear of repercussions instead of using common sense.
Gigerenzer distinguishes between “maximizers” and “satisficers”.3 Maximizers are people who weigh their choices very carefully. They are the ones who spend a lot of time to choose the perfect program on TV and an item in a department store. Satisficers, on the other hand, are the ones who engage in a more limited search and readily accept what they deem “good enough.” Who do you think is happier? Studies say, by far the satisficers. They have more optimism, higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction than the maximizers who tend to be more depressed, full of regret and self-blame.
So, let’s kiss perfectionism good-bye. It does not cultivate open-mindedness and a flexible consciousness as I describe in my book “A Unified Theory of Happiness: An East-Meets-West Approach to Fully Loving Your Life.”4 Quite the opposite: it narrows the mind, making it judgmental and cranky.
What can we do besides understanding these insights about the workings of the mind? Maybe we should begin with something very small in order to cause a ripple effect or to get a foot in the door of our unhealthy perfectionism. For example, next time when visiting a restaurant, order something under a minute and observe how you feel. Most of the time, you will end up liking the dish –unless you chose hell’s kitchen. In the less likely event that you don’t like it, shrug it off. This could have happened even if you had searched the menu for hours. Go on training your mind to let loose and thus begin to trust that “good enough” is still “good.” It is your life that will become better because appreciation of “good” is simply the best.
2) Gerd Gigerenzer (2008). Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. New York: Penguin Books, p. 31.
3) Ibid, p. 6.
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